God Help America

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I woke up the morning after the US election feeling out of whack and completely off kilter. Soul-weary exhausted. I had so hoped that this would mark the day that he would just go away.

If politics is a reflection of our collective spirituality, how is it possible that my American neighbours could enable such a massive step backwards?

This presidential campaign preyed on anger, fear, and powerlessness. It revealed the chinks in democracy’s changing armour and a palpable shift in consciousness. It was one of the most divisive campaigns ever, and will be one of the hardest fractures to heal.

CS Lewis must have seen this coming 75 years ago when he wrote his insightful and prophetic Uncle Screwtape Letters:

“Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.”

15032688_1577828872230912_4162241211964790966_nIf you believe that we each have our own day of reckoning, he will certainly have a whole lot of explaining to do. He brought out the worst in many of us. I was shocked at the intensity of the anger he brought out in me. But I know that I alone am responsible for what comes out in me. Not him.

He has given a voice to people who are angry and fed up, but really those people and those feelings have been there along. He just happened to be the opportunistic lightning rod to channel it. He is only the symptom of a much bigger dis-ease in almost half of the American people. Had the other side won, those people would still be out there. Still angry.

Judgement is one of the ugliest and most destructive human traits, and one of the hardest to overcome. The judgement we have piled on him and his supporters because they do not think or behave the way we think they should has only served to further divide us. In a democracy, there will never be absolute agreement on everything–some will be happy with the outcome and some will not. So maybe “agreement” should not be the goal. Maybe the goal should be to let go of our insatiable need to be right, and try to find a better way to coexist despite our differences. Where does one person’s rights end and another’s begin? Yes it’s complicated.  Yes it’s a very delicate balance. Yes it’s much easier said than done. But it is the only way or we will destroy each other.

“We must mature into people who are, first and foremost, citizens of Earth and residents of the universe, and our identity and core values must be recast accordingly.” —Bill Plotkin

As messy and imperfect as democracy is, this is the process we have. At the very least the people have a choice, and some degree of influence over their own governance and future. Many countries do not have this privilege. America has chosen him, and now they must hold him accountable. I hope that there are enough decent people in his circle to balance him out, and that there are enough checks and balances in place to keep him in line. I hope that what he said after he won about “uniting the American people and healing wounds” represents the real person and intention, and that the hate he has spewed for months was only a tactic to get elected. Maybe I am naive.

Will he rise to the occasion? Will he win over his critics, or has too much damage been done? Will he succeed or will he implode? How much of what he said he would do, can he actually do? Only time will tell. I will try to reserve judgement until I have seen him in action.

Now that the choice has been made, the next steps are clear. If he works to truly and humanely improve the lives of all Americans, he should be supported. If he works a hateful, self serving, exclusionary, irresponsible, fear-based agenda in any way, shape, or form, he must be exposed, opposed, and conquered at every turn. On this there can be no compromise. He is being scrutinized like no other, and must be kept on a very short leash. The US could be on the precipice of a very dangerous, destructive, and revolting era, and it could get very ugly for a very long time. This is our wake-up call.

Of one thing I’m certain: hate cannot combat hate–many wise people have said this, and we know this to be universally true. Continuing to hate him and his supporters will get us absolutely nowhere.

We humans have a tendency to fear the unknown, and avoid that which is different from us. That fear and ignorance can often turn into hate. That’s the real war we should all be fighting.

We have survived other natural and unnatural disasters, and we will survive him. Nature has a way of taking care of itself. He is impermanent and containable. The sun will rise again tomorrow, and the day after that. In the meantime, we need vigilance but we must not be driven by fear. And we ALL need to listen, to try to understand, to self-reflect, and to be open.

If we can do that, then some good can come from all this. Maybe he’s here to teach us something about ourselves and to show us where we’re very clearly stuck. Maybe he’s here to shake us up and help us evolve. Nothing ever changes when we are too comfortable. Now that the fear has been exposed and the anger is out of the shadows, maybe the journey towards healing and civility can begin.

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Into South America: Week 1

In the Ecuadorean mountains, near Otavallo

In the Ecuadorean mountains, near Otavallo

Well, I have come to the end of week 1 in Ecuador, and what a ride it’s been. I realize that for some of you, all the nitty gritty, day to day stuff may be boring. So I will try a new format, starting with a bullet list of random thoughts and observations for those who want it short and sweet, and a full day by day insight for those who are interested in reading more.

Random thoughts and observations
Dogs: there is a dog society, parallel to humans, in most of the small towns I have visited. Dogs are walking around the streets–alone or in groups–going about their own business, running their own show–seemingly unaware or oblivious to what people are doing. I have never seen anything quite like it.
Popcorn: served with virtually every meal. No movie required.
The equator: I assumed it would be stupid hot here because Ecuador is on the equator. Not so, at least so far. 8-23 Celsius in the mountains, and 18-27 Celsius on the West coast. One day last week, pea-sized hail was actually falling from the sky in Quito! Wild.
Gas: 36 cents a litre!
Exports: Ecuador is the number one exporter of bananas and tuna worldwide.
Hats off: the Panama hat is actually made in Ecuador.
Young at heart: I was by far the eldest in the hostels I have stayed in so far. But somehow I don’t feel out of place. Like-minded travelling souls perhaps.
People and pride: people care here. They may not have much, but they take pride in what they do have. They are understated and not aggressive.

The week in review
Flying into the capital city of Quito, Ecuador was pretty cool…dropping into a mountainous valley 9,300 above sea level, twice the altitude of Denver Colorado. And what a pleasure it was to finally arrive after a long (and thankfully uneventful) day of travel, greeted by a very friendly and hassle-free immigration officer at the Quito airport. I then got into an airport cab. The driver was a very nice, pleasant older fellow…but he had no idea where he was going. I think was suffering from early stages of dementia. Poor guy. He must have stopped 10 times for directions, and then promptly forgot them every time! Mumbling to himself, then laughing. So a one hour trip took two.

Finally arrived at a very basic, but nice and clean and friendly hostel in a busy central neighbourhood…good vibe. Hotel staff Alejandro and Andres made me feel totally welcome. No doubt the whole hostel thing was a good idea, as there were people staying there from all over the world. Lots to learn from fellow travellers, but I really was too tired too talk to anyone the first night. But I did much better the second day, meeting lots of new people, including Mark, a young Irishman living in Ecuador. I would end up spending lots of time with him in my first week.

That usual initial fear of the unknown was, and is always right there, but I pushed through it, and ventured out on my own to walk around the neighbourhood on day 2. I had it in my head that I was arriving in a picturesque little Ecuadorian town. Wrong. Quito is a huge city of about 2.5 million people! The most unusual thing I saw was a female police inspector wearing 3-inch heels! I really do not like big city life, but I made the most of my surroundings over the next several days. A few food highlights of the day: a fresh juice I had never tried before (tree tomato), a delicious seafood ceviche, and an interesting combo of figs and cheese (queso) for dessert. Yummy!

The highlight of day 2? While I was walking around the city, a car was backing up and there were a bunch of small kids behind him. I jumped between the kids and the car and stopped him. We all kept walking and when I looked back, a young girl smiled shyly at me and said “gracias.” A very touching moment.

Overlooking Quito, on a volcano

Overlooking Quito, on a volcano

I started day 3 by climbing a volcano that overlooks the city…well not actually climbing. I took the cable car to about 13,000 feet. The air was even thinner up there, and I felt a little light headed and out of breath, but the view was spectacular. Then met a group at another hostel for a 3-hour walking tour of the old town. The guide was really good–engaging and informative–and I learned some Ecuadorian history and culture. Then the rain and cold came in a big way. Not only rain, but pea-sized hail!! But by the end of day 3, I was certainly becoming much more comfortable and confident.

Saturday I took a day tour several hours north of Quito through the Andes mountains. We made several stops, the highlight being Otavalo, home to south America’s biggest Saturday market. I am not a shopper, but I did enjoy this place. Huge market, but surprisingly calm and “tranquillo.” Unlike many other peoples, Ecuadorians are not aggressive when it comes to selling. I am very careful about what and where I eat when I’m travelling–nothing worse than getting sick thousands of miles away from home–but after carefully scoping out the food stands, I enjoyed a delicious freshly pulled pork snack for $1.50, eating with locals. Although the day was a little touristy, this was a really good way to make this kind of trip. I also really enjoyed chatting with some of the others in the bus…visitors from Germany, Thailand, Switzerland, US, and Canada. Even a US pilot. I learned about them, and picked up all kinds of useful travel tips and info. Made a few stops along the way, including a mountain lagoon and the equator line. Pretty cool to have one foot in the north hemisphere, and one in the south.

One foot in the North, and one in the South. pointing North.

One foot in the North, and one in the South. pointing North.

One very interesting thing I learned about that was a new way to look at the Earth. Kind of hard to explain, and I’m not sure I completely understand it, but the gist of it involves looking at the earth not as upper and lower hemispheres, but as left and right. North, South, East, and West stay the same, but the Earth is, in effect, turned on its side. If you hold a globe below you, looking at the equator with North on your left and South on your right, and spin it away from you! You get the idea. A whole new way to look at Mother Earth.

Day 5 (Sunday), I drove with Mark from Quito, heading South and West through the mountains and down to the coast. It was a very long drive…about 10 hours…but the 1-hour descent from about 9,000 to about 2,000 feet was wild. Twisty, turny roads, driving through the clouds, crossing different climate zones…it was an incredibly spectacular part of the journey. We finally made it to the modern port city of Manta (one of the biggest drug ports in the world apparently), then south along the coast to Salango, a small fishing village just outside of Puerto Lopez. We stayed at a very basic, but clean hostel for $8 a night. The best part was falling asleep to the sound of the ocean.

Fishermen arriving with their early morning catch...and the birds trying to get a free meal!

Fishermen arriving with their early morning catch…and the birds trying to get a free meal!

On Monday we visited a large Canadian real estate project (Hola Ecuador) which is about 45 minutes North of Salango. From there, we travelled South, stopping at most of the beach towns and main beaches along the way. Quite a nice stretch of about 60 km. between Puerto Lopez and Montanita, which is a very cool surf town. Lots of life and activity there compared to the others. Beach bums, hippies, and great waves. Then back to Salango for a second night.

imageOn Tuesday (day 7), we and headed south, back to Monanita where Mark dropped me, and where I will hang out for a few days. Earlier in the week, a fellow traveller recommended Balsa Surf Camp, a hostel, off the beaten path but on the beach for $25 a night. What a beautiful place this turned out to be. A lot of care and attention and thought has been put into this comfortable and relaxed oasis. Feels very welcoming and peaceful here. I have not been feeling 100% healthy over the last few days–adjusting to the food, fighting a cold–so this will be a restorative time I think. Spent the rest of the day walking the beach and doing some body surfing, getting to know the water. Not quite up to the physical demands of surfing yet, so will hope to do that tomorrow as I begin week 2!

It is very interesting how things have unfolded this week, the people I have met, and how one person or place leads to the next. I could never have predicted how any of this would unfold. I did not have a firm plan, yet things have turned out just perfectly. It reminds me of the gift that is the present moment, and allowing myself to go with the flow.

A few final thoughts…every time I arrive in a new place, I wonder what the hell am I doing here. My reflex is guarded and nervous and suspicious in various proportions and amount. I tend to want to keep to myself. And when I do that, invariably, that’s exactly what I get back. But I push through it, and make an effort to connect. And that changes the whole experience to something very rich and meaningful.

Even though I don’t know much Spanish, I make an effort in their language. I make an effort to know them. And that goes a long way to breaking barriers. Smiling, asking their name, showing an interest, trying to engage…it changes everything. I have been warned about all kinds of dangerous situations and scams and I am mindful. But I am reminded time and time again that when a I treat people with kindness and openness…the way I want to be treated….I invariably get the same treatment in return. I am perhaps naive in some ways, but I do know that people are fundamentally quite similar, and respond to the same things, whatever country they’re from.

Now why do I work extra hard at this only when I am in unfamiliar territory….need to think about this one.

Any thoughts or questions? Don’t be shy. ‘Til next week.

Jonathanimage

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Two True Gifts of Christmas

imageThe best part of the Christmas season for me are those unexpected gifts of goodness, insight, connection, and light that sometimes come our way. They are gifts of magic. And they are all around us, when we are open to receiving them. Here are two from my world that may lift you up.

The first story is about Sister Lorraine Malo, a beautiful woman I have known for many years who died in June at the age of 76. She was born in 1936, and entered religious life in 1955 at the age 19. She was a woman of unshakeable faith, who lived through unspeakable horrors, and yet spent her life serving others–always smiling, always hopeful. For most of the last 10 years, she helped orphaned and very sick children in Haiti–befriending them, teaching them, consoling them, and playing with them. I just found out recently that she had died, and it made me very sad.image

On my way out of Toronto last week, I stopped in at the Sisters of St Joseph to make a donation towards the work she started in Haiti. I also hoped to speak to a sister who knew Sister Lorraine, and was with her at the end. And as luck would have it, I ended up having a very emotional chat with Sister Pat Boucher who shared with me some of the final days, moments, and memories with her. We both cried. Towards the end I noted that Sister Lorraine died just a few days shy of her 77th birthday. Sister Pat had asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday about two weeks prior to that.

Sister Lorraine said: “there is nothing to plan for me, Sister Pat…because I will be in heaven.”

If anyone deserves to be there, it is surely Sister Lorraine. And I have absolutely no doubt that she is there now, watching over all the souls she touched.

The second story happened just this past week. I stopped by to say hi to the Wongs, my next door neighbours for 15 years. I usually pop in once a year since since I moved away in 2008. Mr. and Mrs. Wong don’t speak English very well, but somehow we manage to communicate, at least superficially. Mrs. Wong and I had never shared more than a brief hug, but on this day, it was very different.

Mrs. Wong asked me for my address. I tried to explain that I don’t really have an official home address right now, following the profoundly painful experience earlier this year of separating from my wife. She locked onto my eyes and started crying. Then she held my hand, grabbed my arm, and tried to explain to me that her son was going through a similar experience, and how worried she was about him and her five-year-old granddaughter. I shared with her some thoughts on how I am somehow getting through this, and how important her family’s support and the support of her son’s friends would be over the coming months. She told me to be strong and to never doubt my goodness. And for the next 20 minutes or so she held onto me tightly and did not let go. She never stopped looking in my eyes.

It was an extended moment of very close, intense physical and emotional connection that I have very rarely felt in my life, in particular from a relative stranger. We locked onto each other, and somehow in those moments, we gave each other the gift of comfort.

“It is only in love that the human heart is happy and in loving action that fulfillment and peace reside.”–Sister Lorraine Malo

Into Africa–March 7, 2013

265Before I get into the week, here are a few random thoughts and observations. In many African countries, women still have no rights and are considered the property of men. Once she has been bought, a man is free to use and abuse her as he pleases. This used to be the norm across the continent; now less so, but still far too frequently which is very troubling. I firmly believe that if women ran countries there would be far less violence within and between countries. But I digress.

This does not seem to be the case in Maputo though, and I would guess most urban areas of Mozambique. Women are very aggressive and outspoken here. I have been asked by many local men why I don’t have a girlfriend. That is the culture. Friday nights are “girlfriend” nights. I tried to explain to one colleague why I cannot take part in that. “But you don’t have to tell your wife, she’s not here,” he said. I told him that that was not the issue…that I would know. It might be different if I where raised here to think that way, but I was not, and cannot. But I suppose the practice is not all that different from anywhere else, it’s just more socially accepted here.

Life expectancy in Mozambique is only about 50 years. Although there is hardly any obesity here and most people look healthy, the overall diet is terrible. Rice and potatoes (especially french fries) are staples with most meals, and not a lot of crunchy fruit and veggies. Lots of mushy food.

Part of it is poverty, but part of it I think is that they just don’t know about nutrition. All they know is what has been passed down to them from parents and family. They have not been taught otherwise.

Mozambique is the 4th fastest growing economy in the world. Really hard to believe in some ways, especially with the huge gap between rich and poor. Let’s pray that with a booming economy, increasing focus on education, and tremendous external interest in Mozambique’s natural resources, that gap will narrow in the coming years.

The week that was…

Minutes after last week’s post, I was very relieved to attend the closing reception of the international conference we hosted. It was cocktail party outside the conference centre featuring the same African musicians and dancers I wrote about last week, the same group that opened the conference…and my observation was that the whole thing felt quite unnatural.

IMG_1388Well, the universe works in some very interesting and mysterious ways sometimes. I was standing there, minding my own business, when one of the Zulu dudes grabbed me and led me to the front of the crowd. He put something on my head, and handed me a spear and leather shield and before I knew it, I was chanting and performing a Zulu war dance with them and three others from the conference! I was the only white guy up there, in a seersucker pants and a jacket. What a site it must have been. My body is just not capable of moving the way the Zulu do, but I gave it my best shot. As I have done with every aspect of this incredible journey.

I worked half a day on Friday, then off with my friend Liz, her two kids, and brother Sean235 for a whirlwind tour through Kruger national game park in South Africa and Swaziland. Sean and I went for an amazing three-hour open-vehicle sunset safari Friday night (or as Charlotte says, “safaaawee”…so cute) . Our Excellent guide (yes that’s his name) was a knowledgeable guy with a quirky sense of humour. He was comfortable and relaxed, but his eyes were fascinating–they never stopped moving, as he constantly scanned the terrain, on permanent alert. Like a predator.253

Kruger park is one of the largest in Africa, about 65 km west to east and 360 km north to south. It is home 547 species of birds, 147 species of mammals, and 114 species of reptiles.

I had no real expectations on what the experience would be like and what we might see. But in three short hours, it felt like the park animals gave us a real show, with impalas, hippos, elephants, wildebeest, buffalo, kudus, bush babies, porcupines, water bucks, and zebras all around us. We even spotted, albeit at a distance, a couple of lions and the rare black rhino. Apparently you can drive through the park for days and weeks and never see these. 247Rhinos, lions, elephants, buffalo, and leopards are what hunters refer to as “the big five” because these animals are so hard to kill, a reference that I dislike incidentally. We saw four out of the five, but the highlight for me was an elephant who just appeared on our right side, just feet away from the vehicle. I had spotted elephants at a242 distance a little earlier, but this was a completely different experience. It was MASSIVE, at least 15 feet tall…and so wise and peaceful looking. I stopped snapping shots and tried to just take it in. Magic.

One funny sidebar…about a year ago I bought this great safari-type shirt. Breathable, versatile, well designed and very comfortable. This will be perfect if I go on a safari one day, I thought. Ironic then that I did not have this with me for the safari (in the dirty laundry pile back in Maputo), and instead was wearing bright blue golf shirt! Very wilderness looking!251

Then up very early the next morning for another drive through the park, this time with the kids and Liz. More buffalo, elephants, zebras, as well as giraffes, vultures, turtles and more. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how well I’d fare inside a vehicle with two young kids for hours at a time, but I approached that as I have everything else on this trip, with openness to the flow. That attitude of acceptance changes everything.

The journey continued through South Africa to Swaziland, as we wound our way 110through the mountains of this small country (about 150×100 km), the last remaining monarchy in Africa. Interesting how this landlocked country, one of two in South Africa (the other being Lesotho) has managed to non-violently remain independent from British and South Africa rule. A country rich in tradition. Every year, for example, there is a national celebration where the king takes a new bride (he is about to about 13 now!). It is a showcase event for all the eligible women in the country. Is it a surprise then that about a third of the country is infected by HIV/AIDS.

The countryside is absolutely stunning, and there is certainly a different feel from South 283Africa and Mozambique. More orderly than Mozambique somehow, but not as modern as South Africa. We stopped at a little craft place with beautiful views, and minutes later, a massive water dam. We continued through the mountains, with pavement turning to dirt road. I started to feel that familiar tingle of worry and unease, not sure where we were headed and feeling like we had made a wrong turn. Being in the back with the kids, I had not really been paying attention. And we were beginning to lose daylight. No signage, and everyone we stopped to ask seemed to have no idea where we were. The what ifs started swirling around my head. Anyway, it passed and as it turned out, we were not off track at all. It just felt like we were.

We finally made it to the Mozambique border around 7:30 pm, where we discovered a problem with my entry visa. After about an hour of negotiation and waiting (thank you Liz), we sorted it out and were on our way. Just another part of the adventure. I probably should have paid more attention to the process, and been better prepared. As Sean pointed out, in the big picture it was a good thing because it showed that the immigration system can work the way it is supposed to. But I am so glad that we discovered this then, and not at the airport in a week from now, as this might have prevented me from leaving the country!

It was a wonderful tour, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this with friends.

Sunday was a grey, windy, and unsettled feeling day. It matched the tumultuous feeling I had inside of me. I wandered across the street to the park where an afternoon music and food festival was unfolding. I just wasn’t in the celebratory mood. I was off. It happens. But much less often than it used to. And I know that it passes, and not to let it discolour everything else in the meantime. Learning.

I ran into Vally, a musician I met about a month ago in a club who, at the time, seemed very eager for me to play with him and his band. When I followed up by phone and text a few days later, he never responded. I saw him again about two weeks ago and he apologized and said his phone was broken. Then he asked me for money to get drugs for his sick child. I didn’t buy it because I don’t trust him. Then I ran into him again at this festival on Sunday. He apologized for his phone again and for asking me for money the last time we met. Then he asked me for money again. It really bothered me.

The relationships I have formed here, by and large have not been based on money. And this dude is shifty, insincere, and disingenuous. There is something about this sort of person that really stirs something up deep inside of me. I gave him a few bucks anyway, and off he went. I have since learned that Vally is a drug addict which explains why I felt the way I felt.

Later that day Domingues, one of the hotel receptionists, asked if he could borrow a cable to re-charge his phone. And then he said in his broken English: “I love you Mr. Jonatan. You are the best.” And everything re-balanced.

Monday was a better day. Less than two weeks to go and I feel my time running out. I met with someone from the Ministry of Education about website issues. Before we got to his questions, I pointed out that the average can’t even find or get to the website. Seems obvious, but I need to keep reminding myself of where I am. I keep hammering home the universal message that you must think and act like the audience you want to reach, regardless of where you are in the world.

I returned to the office and had a chat with Alberto, one of my colleagues. He was asking me about my visit, with some very insightful comments abou how difficult it can be in a strange place, far from home, different culture, language barriers, the feeling of being alone. “That describes it perfectly,” I said, “but I managed, with help, to adjust very quickly, and I am very proud of that.”

“Ahhh,” he said wisely. “But your approach from the very beginnning has been very open, and very friendly.” He’s right. I have been. Flexibility, awareness, thoughtfulness, a willingness to help and serve, and finding my rhythm quickly have made all the difference, and made this an experience I will never forget.

Tuesday I was flying, starting to wrap up meetings and reports. I met with Chico at the end of the day, and we practiced together, just the two of us, for about two solid hours at his home. He was sober, rested, and focused. I really loved this particular practice because it was more than just me learning his songs…I was actually collaborating with him, suggesting a few changes in wording and structure to his songs. He was open, appreciative, and into it. We’re working on three songs, which I may perform with him and the rest if the InTransito band next week. After we’d run through each of them about four times, he kept saying: “one more time, for the road.” Then his wife Anita made us tea. One tea bag, three cups.

This practice marked a turning point in that up until now, I have been driving the process. Tuesday night Chico asked me if I wanted to practice at his place the next night as well. He also gave me one of his percussion instruments. I will treasure this always, and hopefully put it to very good use in the coming months.

Wednesday we had another rehearsal together. Again, a very interesting practice…I made suggestions and am becoming more confident, and Chico was doing harmonies this time. The songs are evolving. No ego, no expectations, no agenda…just open. “Very good,” he said. “You are ready.”

This morning (Thursday) I was able to arrange a interview with the Canadian lead of this educational reform program at Radio Mozambique. It was a great 10-minute interview. The host was prepared, had good questions, and Suzanne delivered important key messaging like a pro.

Off to the beach this weekend for the first time since I arrived, followed by a visit to one of the training centers early next week.

I will close with a quote that I really like from Ram Dass which ties it all together quite neatly this week. Something to continue to strive for:

“We are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter because we are so deeply interconnected. Working on our own consciousness is the most important thing that we are doing at any moment, and being love is the supreme creative act.”

‘Til next week…

MoJo269

The Four Agreements

I read this beautiful little book by Don Miguel Ruiz a couple of years ago, but was reminded of it recently. Because I am struggling. That’s usually when something bigger intervenes, and sends me these reminders.

In the book, Ruiz describes a code of conduct for life based on four agreements:

1. Be impeccable with your word (watch what you say, how you say it, and that you live what you say)
2. Don’t take anything personally (this one is about not letting ego interfere, one of the toughest ones for me)
3. Don’t make assumptions (assumption and judgement…we do it all the time and it inevitably predisposes our mind in a negative direction…another tough one for me)
4. Always do your best (in all things, drop the walls and filters, and let your true self and essence shine)

Four simple little rules that are so powerful when I really think about them. In fact, when things are not going so well–when I am feeling anxious, unsettled, edgy, or just plain off–I can usually trace it back to being out of sync with one or more of these agreements.

I think what these agreements are really getting at has to do with living our lives in alignment, from a place of peace and tranquility. Easier said than done perhaps. Especially in the moment when life feels like it might be going off the rails. Having the awareness to recognize that things are off and the discipline to try to bring them back into sync.

What is perhaps most profound is that fundamentally, at our core, I think we all have these built into us from birth. But somehow many of us become distant and estranged from them as life unfolds.

So it’s not about learning a new way of being, it’s really about discovering, or rather uncovering, what’s already there.

The Cottage

For the last several years, we have been fortunate to have the opportunity to rent a friend’s cottage during the winter months while she is away. It’s a cozy little spot, only about 90 minutes drive from home. In the summer, the lake is packed. Nice, but in the fall, winter, and spring there are only a handful of people. That’s when the magic really happens.

For a number of reasons, this will likely be a very short cottage season for us. But I have just arrived, and as always, I feel so very grateful to be here. The cottage has always been a very powerful draw for me. My wife and son enjoy it as well, but not the way I do. I am thrilled to come up here for a week or two at a time when I can, on my own. Perhaps too thrilled.

I think this is the 5th or 6th season for us, but it is only just starting dawn on me why I love it here. My time is my own. I can spend it however I wish. I am not responsible, or feel responsible for anyone else. I cook nutritious meals, and enjoy doing it. I read for hours on end. I write. I think. I listen to music. I sing. I meditate, sometimes twice a day! Back to basics at the cottage. I am able to just be.

At home, I am distracted by the endless list of things that have to get done, that I am responsible for, and I sometimes neglect myself. And it can make me resentful. There I said it.

At the cottage, I can just take care of myself, heal, rejuvenate. Peace, quiet, free of static and distraction. Life moves at a much slower and richer pace here.

Ironic isn’t it that I have saved and planned and sacrificed to create a home, yet I need to get away from it to get centred and in touch with my flow?

I suppose I have always appreciated my time alone, ever since I can remember. Always a bit of a loner. Always somewhat of an introvert, although many aspects of my life might indicate otherwise. Some people need others to recharge. Not me. I am someone who needs to turn inward. And I need the separation and quiet to do it.

I am not complaining. I have a very good life, and I’m surrounded by incredible and loving people. I am very, very fortunate. But time alone at the cottage gives me the space and perspective to truly appreciate it (and I know that this is a troubling paradox…save this one for another day).

But I also realize that ultimately I must learn to find this stillness wherever I am. That will take some work.

 

No More Stinking Thinking

It is not possible to grasp the infinite from a position that is finite. Seems like a good place to start.

“Dual” thinking, as I understand it, is the idea that something has to be “either/or.” That it’s either good or bad. Right or wrong. “Stinking thinking” as I have heard it described.

Here’s another way describing it: the concept of up and down may seem to make sense from an earthly or gravitational perspective, but if you are somewhere out in space, it suddenly make no sense at all. The list of these polar opposites goes on and on, but they all have one thing in common—they are laced with judgement.

And I find myself doing it all the time. Making judgements or assumptions about the people I come into contact with on a daily basis. I become self-righteous and seek to justify why I’m right and they’re wrong. Or to decide on my position, and then only look for those arguments that support it–which then effectively closes my mind off to any other possibility.

If I think in this “either/or” way, is it any wonder that I continue to feel separate and isolated, from myself and others? Why is it that “dual” thinking is so entrenched in how I process things?

This probably sound and feels familiar because our society is based on it. And it’s clearly not working.

How can dual thinking represent “truth” when something can be right for one person, but wrong for another? It is simply a matter of perspective, which no one person can be the judge and jury on. It is a very narrow, arrogant, and un-evolved way of thinking that I know does not serve me.

Richard Rohr, Neil Donald Walsch, and many others look at it a different way—in a “non-dual, unified, both/and” way. Some spiritual practices take this for granted. But it is a very difficult, but critical, concept to grasp and apply.

Is it possible for something to be “both/and?” Is it possible that two seemingly contradictory viewpoints can co-exist? Richard Rohr describes non-dual thinking as “our ability to read reality in a way that is not judgmental, in a way that is not exclusionary of the part that we don’t understand. When you don’t split everything up according to what you like and what you don’t like, you leave the moment open, you let it be what it is in itself, and you let it speak to you. Reality is not totally one, but it is not totally two, either!”

Stay with the dilemma, because truth and wisdom are often found in the paradox.

There is also a wonderful quote by Werner Erhard: “There is something I do not know, the knowing of which could change everything.” I love this quote because it completely shifts my self-imposed parameters and clears the way for something much bigger.

If I can acknowledge that in the grand (and not so grand) scheme of things, I only have limited information, that I know only a fraction of what there is to know, and that there is an infinite amount that I don’t know, it opens up a huge world of possibility…and perhaps, eventually, acceptance.

I know I do not have all the answers, and there are perspectives that I cannot even fathom. I also know that when I remember this in my interactions with people, life is better, more peaceful.

If we as a species can also begin to accept this, it seems to me that more unity and a higher, more evolved consciousness will emerge, and that many of our problems would simply disappear.

One thing I know for sure (or at least as sure as I can be) is that we are not doing ourselves any favours by stinking thinking in this way. I believe that it serves only to deepen our struggle, and further isolates us from each other.

I also suspect that our evolution, and perhaps our collective survival may depend on our ability to shift to a way of thinking that is more inclusive and unified.

Violence: When Will We Decide That Enough is Enough?

In the wake of these recent individual violent acts in the US, I keep wondering about what it is that makes these people do what they do. What is making them so angry? And it’s not just a US phenomenon. There are examples everywhere.

And it’s not just the individual. Our frame of reference is a world that is constantly bickering and competing. One where countries are always at war with each other. Where individual acts of terrorism seem like the norm, and where the decisions and actions of the few dictate the parameters in which the vast majority of us live our lives.

I don’t have the answers but I do know that it is a symptom of profound anger, unhappiness, and disconnectedness. It is a symptom of a very sick and fearful society. One that has lost its way.

Why do we continue to choose hurt over healing? Why do we not opt for creation, cooperation, and peace over destruction and aggression? These are not new questions, but we keep doing and allowing the same things over and over, expecting a different result (Einstein’s definition of insanity).

How often will it have to happen before we look honestly at the root causes, and decide collectively that we don’t want to live this way? Once a month? Once a week?

Or will it be when enough of us have been more closely impacted by these acts of violence? Or will it be when we have all simply wiped each other out?

What a blunt and primitive species we are. And we know better.

Surely we have all seen enough–lived enough–to know that violence does not work.  We have thousands of years of history that proves it. And we must know by now that it is getting us absolutely nowhere.

Aren’t we all getting just a little tired of this?

I just came across this timely piece by Richard Rohr. Substitute your own beliefs or words, but the overiding message is clear and universal.

“If  the self doesn’t find some way to connect radically with Being, it will live in anxiety and insecurity. The false self is inherently insecure. It’s intrinsically fragile, grasping for significance. That’s precisely because it is insignificant! So it grabs at things like badges and uniforms and titles and hats and flags (and I would add: GUNS) to give itself importance and power. People talk about dying for the flag of their country. They don’t realize that the Bible would definitely call that idolatry. What were you before you were an American? Will you be an American in heaven? Most of us don’t know how to answer those questions without a spiritual journey and an inner prayer life.

In prayer you will discover who you were before you were male, before you were  female, before you were black, before you were white, before you were straight, before you were gay, before you were Lutheran, Mormon, or Amish.

Have you ever lived there? At that naked place, you will have very little to defend, fight about, compete with, overcome, hate, or fear. You are then living in the Reign  of God, or what Buddha calls the Great Compassion.

Violence is unneeded and undesired.”

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Let Go: My Son is Out in the World Now

Our son Ben recently graduated from high school, and is heading out into the world today. Panama then Paris for almost a month.  He is with his girlfriend Nathalie and her parents for the Panama part of it, then he will be only with her for the Paris part. He is 17 going on 30 in some ways. In other ways, my wife and I think he is going on 14. Not really, but sort of because we realize that there is so much for him to learn. The world is a wonderful, but scary place. And he’s just a kid. How will he survive out there on his own in the big bad world without us?

We have spent the past several weeks helping him prepare. Making sure he has everything he could possibly need, and that he has thought through every possible scenario. Drilling into him all the tips and life experiences we can think of. Preparing him for every possible “what if” scenario.

I won’t lie. I am anxious and worried—my default state. I know…this is wasted energy, but I can’t help it. That’s what parents do. And yet, now that he has gone this uneasiness is subsiding. Not exactly peaceful, but certainly not as intense as it was leading up to his departure. A little more settled now.

The truth is, we have been helping him prepare for this moment his whole life. We have taught him everything we know. Given him all the tools we can think of. We have guided him as best we can. And he has taken all these life experiences and evolved into a unique and interesting young man. Ready to take his show on the road. Capable of meeting the challenges that will come his way. It’s up to Ben now.

He may not approach life the way I have, but that might not be such a bad thing. Most of my life has been lived in fear of what’s out there. At 48 I’m only starting to break free of that prison.

He will surely stumble. He will surely fall. Just as we all do. But that’s what life is all about. I need to trust that he will somehow figure things out and find his way, just as we all do.

I am learning that the only way he will create his story, is for us to let him go.

And perhaps in the letting go, there will be peace.